Thursday, July 30, 2009

Allergist's appt.

The appointment today went just as I expected - no big deal. The doctor suggested I should be hopeful that Ainsley has outgrown her coconut allergy. Last year the hive to coconuts during her skin test was very small and her blood-test number to it was only 1.5. He thinks that given how mild her allergy was to it before, she may very well not have it now, so I guess I will cross my fingers that she's outgrown that one. It would be great to incorporate coconut into Ainsley's diet. I have a lot of dessert recipes that call for coconut, and the So Delicious brand of allergy-friendly products (yogurt & ice cream) has a whole line of foods made with coconut milk. In fact, I just saw today in my supermarket that that brand has come out with a Coconut Milk beverage - it was on the same shelf as the soy and rice milk.

The doctor also encouraged me to incorporate shellfish into Ainsley's diet. I needed extra reassurance on that because, although Ainsley's blood-test numbers to shellfish were 0 last year, she had a tiny hive to the shellfish mix during the skin test. Given the severe reactions shellfish can provoke in allergic individuals, I have been too afraid to give any to Ainsley despite her good test results. Now I guess I'll just have to be brave and give her some shrimp next time my in-laws grill some (believe me, I will give her the tiniest bit of shrimp imaginable). I have to admit, I am not a fan of fish or shellfish so I've never been particularly motivated to incorporate it into my cooking, but I guess I'll have to.

Anyway, after the appt. I took Ainsley to have her blood drawn at the lab. She was a trooper. She kept saying, "Mommy, I don't want to do this, and the only way we can get out of it is to leave right now." Still, when I explained that we couldn't leave and we had to do this to know if she had outgrown any of her allergies, she didn't fight or throw a tantrum. As the nurse took the three vials of blood (!) needed for Ainsley's many tests, Ainsley sat there calmly, and only whimpered a couple of times. Afterwards, a Daffy Duck bandaid made it all okay.

Ainsley's blood will be tested for all of her known allergens, including milk, egg white, peanuts, coconut, sesame, and the tree nuts (pecans, cashews, pistachios, and some more I can't remember).

We should have the results by next Tuesday.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Happy birthday to a great food-allergy dad! Plus a request and some easy recipes

First of all, happy 35th birthday, Dave! We celebrated with his parents Sunday night by eating a birthday cake his mom made using a Duncan Hines German chocolate cake mix and Pillsbury vanilla frosting with sprinkles (she used egg replacer so the cake would be safe for Ainsley, and it turned out great).

Yesterday, I took the kids up to his office in the afternoon and we gave him a bag of his favorite candy, most of which was also safe for Ainsley (they share a particularly strong love of Twizzlers). He enjoyed walking the kids around his office and showing them off to his coworkers.

Then this morning Ainsley and I made him breakfast in bed, with bacon, toast (from some challah bread I made this weekend), and wholewheat/applesauce/strawberry/blueberry pancakes we made this morning using the pancake recipe in the Kid-Pleasing Cookbook (see sidebar, "My Favorite Cookbooks"). He loved it!

Second, I am sorry I haven't posted more lately. Honestly, until today, I haven't had anything much to say. Things are going really well but I haven't done many new things, especially on the food allergy front. Instead, the last couple of weeks we've been taking it easy and enjoying the summer.

Today, however, I do have an important request: Ainsley's annual allergist appointment is tomorrow so I would appreciate any good vibes you could send us. Specifically, we are hoping (but not particularly optimistic, given our past experience) that some of Ainsley's allergy numbers have gone down.

For those of you not familiar with food allergy appointments, once a year, we meet with Ainsley's allergist and tell him about any significant food-allergic reactions she's had within the past 12 months (like the now-infamous yogurt incident) and whether we think she's allergic to anything new (thankfully we don't). Then he gives us a lab form and we go get her blood drawn to test her immunoglobulin E ("IgE") numbers for the foods we know she's allergic to (a food-allergic reaction is caused by the body's creation of IgE antibodies to the food; when these antibodies react with the food, histamine and other chemicals are released, causing hives, asthma, or other symptoms of an allergic reaction).

About 5 days after the blood draw we get a call from the allergist telling us what her numbers are and what he thinks they mean (for example, last year Ainsley's number for peanuts went from a 12 to a 6, suggesting she might be outgrowing the peanut allergy. Boy, wouldn't it be great if that number were a 0 this year!).

I've learned over the last three years not to get my hopes up too much about this appointment, because so far she hasn't outgrown any of her allergies and the studies I've read suggest that she may not outgrow any until her teens at the earliest. Still, there's always that little flame of hope in my heart that this will be the year .... I can say her eczema has gotten markedly better since last year, so perhaps that means something in her little immune system is correcting itself. As I've said before, if I could choose an allergy for her to outgrow, it would be milk, so COME ON MILK I say as I kiss the dice and throw them on the table.

Finally, I have collected a few more excitingly easy, safe dishes that I wanted to share below. I found the chicken couscous recipe in Family Circle magazine in an article on dinners ready in under 20 minutes. It was, indeed, quite easy, and the family really liked it (the kids gobbled theirs up and Ainsley said more than once, "Mmmm, this is good!").

The vegetable skillet and cobbler recipes are from my wonderful friend Elena, who is so considerate when it comes to Ainsley's allergies. We've eaten over at her house several times and she always keeps safe snacks and prepares safe foods for Ainsley. She is also careful to note when something she prepares for her family looks safe for Ainsley and sends me the recipe. Thanks so much, Elena - every food allergy mom should have a friend like you!

Chicken Couscous with Grape Tomatoes

2 chicken breasts or 3 tenderloins (to make things easy on yourself, you could use a package of safe, precooked chicken - I often use Hormel Natural Choice oven-roasted chicken, found near the refrigerated deli meats)
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 C safe chicken broth
1/2 chopped onion (okay, you do have to chop one vegetable, but I promise that's it!)
2 C thinly sliced carrots (I use fresh matchstick carrots so I don't have to do more cutting)
1 C uncooked, plain couscous
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt

If chicken is uncooked, saute in the oil until fully cooked and then remove chicken from saute pan. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Add to the pan the chicken broth, onions, carrots, spices and seasonings and simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender (also add the oil if you didn't add it before while cooking the chicken). During that 10 minutes, cut the grape tomatoes into quarters. After vegetables are tender, add the chicken, tomatoes, and couscous to the pan and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes before serving (time enough for the couscous to fluff up). Makes about 4 adult servings.

* * * *

Hearty Vegetable & Rice Skillet

1 15oz can black, garbanzo, or kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 14.5oz can stewed or diced tomatoes, cut up
2 C loose-pack frozen mixed vegetables
1 C water
3/4 C quick-cooking brown rice (if you use instant brown rice, use only 2/3 C water)
1/2 tsp dried thyme or dillweed, crushed
1 10.75oz can condensed tomato soup (optional - still tastes good without!)

In a large skillet, stir together beans, undrained tomatoes, vegetables, water, uncooked rice, and thyme or dillweed. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 12 to 14 minutes or till rice is tender. Stir in soup; heat through. If you are not allergic to cheese, you can add some shredded cheese on top. If not allergic to almonds, you could also top with slivered almonds. Makes 4 servings.

* * * *

Ultra-Simple Fruit Cobbler

4 Tbsp safe margarine
3/4 C flour
3/4 C sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 C soy milk
2 C sliced fresh peaches or nectarines, or whole blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or a combination of fruits (or a 12-ounce package of frozen berries)
1 Tbsp sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put margarine in an 8-inch square or 9-inch round pan; set in oven to melt. When margarine has melted, remove pan from oven. Whisk flour, 3/4 cup of sugar, baking powder, and salt in small bowl. Add soy milk; whisk to form a smooth batter. Pour batter into pan, then scatter fruit over batter. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tbsp of sugar.

Bake until batter browns and fruit bubbles, 50 to 60 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of safe whipped cream (Soyatoo, available at Whole Foods, is safe for some) or soy ice cream, if desired.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ahhhh ... now I can breathe a bit

I have not posted in a while because I've been really busy at work. Finally, I have gotten almost back to normal in terms of my schedule so I can spend a little more time at home.

Let's see, what's been happening with us ... well, to start off with, Ainsley's hypochondria has certainly lessened. She has pretty much stopped with all of the worrisome habits, like washing her hands every two seconds and refusing to swallow something she's already chewed up because it might have germs. I guess it was from food allergy camp. I will still send her next year but I think I'm going to mention to the teachers that this happened so they can be more aware that this is a possible side effect.

We had a wonderful Fourth of July - went to Fort Worth for a concert in the park and fireworks with some good friends who have kids the same age as ours. We went to the zoo the next day, which was great but H-O-T (if you don't know, the Dallas area is having record-setting temps these days ... these are the times I wished we lived up north!).

Ainsley's OT continues to go well. She seems to be improving in practically every area of physical development. She can ride a tricycle better, she can write her letters better, she can climb on things better - it seems to really be paying off these days. She continues to go twice a week but we'll scale back to once a week when school starts again. Funny story - on Saturday, she came up to me and said, "Mommy, I need to do a little work today" (I think she might have heard that phrase come out of Dave's mouth one too many times). So she took a marker and three pieces of paper, sat in a chair in her playroom, and proceeded to draw letters all over the papers, which she then taped up on the wall. Very hard work indeed! One thing that's gotten her into letters these days is the Leapfrog DVDs on letters and words. These really do help kids learn their letters.

Finally, my recent workload has caused me to create even more "ridiculously easy" meals. Tonight we had yummy, ham & veggie hash browns and pancakes. Here's the "recipe":

Dairy-free, egg-free hashbrowns

1 package safe frozen hashbrowns (I have used Kroger and Alexia brands)
1 package ham chunks (you can find them pre-cut in the refrigerated meat section)
Optional: if you feel like chopping, you could add green peppers, onions, mushrooms, or whatever other veggies you like with your hashbrowns

Pour about 3 tbsp vegetable or olive oil in saute pan. Pour frozen hashbrowns in pan. Heat over high heat for approximately 20 minutes, stirring often. Add ham chunks and optional veggies after the first 10 minutes.

Although I did make the pancakes tonight from scratch, I often just toast safe frozen waffles (many brands available - buy at Whole Foods or Sprouts), throw some fruit (blueberries, cut-up strawberries, etc.) on them, and then serve them with syrup. Pancakes or waffles make a great accompaniment to the hash browns.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I've created a hypochondriac

I don't know if it was the recent yogurt/epi-pen incident or that Ainsley just attended food allergy camp for a week, or both, but in the last several days she's gotten really scared over small things and it's been pretty difficult to calm her down. It started with frequent complaints, after eating foods that have never before produced a reaction, that her throat itched. At first I would give her Benadryl, but after she started complaining about this every night I finally stopped and adopted a "wait-and-see" approach (if the throat itching didn't get any worse and there were no other symptoms, I didn't give her Benadryl). She also (rather comically) asked for Benadryl once after my mom sneezed near her, because she worried about the germs my mom could have transmitted.

Then she started worrying whenever she ate something after playing outside without washing her hands. She worried both about the possibility that she could have ingested a small bit of an allergen and that she was eating germs. One time, she got scared after she broke a stick in half and then stuck one of her fingers in her mouth because the stick had hurt it. She was afraid that something on the stick had gotten onto her finger and then into her mouth and would hurt her.

This morning was the worst - she ate a piece of toast and then refused to swallow it because she was afraid her hands weren't clean when she was eating it. I tried unsuccessfully to get her to swallow it and finally made her spit it out in the toilet.

I have no idea what I can do to ratchet down this newfound anxiety of hers. I'm not sure if it's some sort of developmental stage or whether it's because of recent events.